NORMAN — A 24-year-old Norman-raised Oklahoma City firefighter is the first in department history to complete the Georgia Smoke Diver course, a six-day, 60-hour program that takes firefighters to their limit and then some.
OKCFD Corp. Dylan Murray, of Fire Station 7C, recently passed the course, which only boasts a 40 percent pass rate.
"We started with 47, and graduated 24," Murray said. "My experience was incredible. The biggest thing I gained from it was confidence in myself. When you get there, there's no hand holding."
Murray said the last obstacle of the course is a door, which includes remnants of three separate house fires in the Atlanta metro area, where firemen died.
"Before you take your final test, you walk through it, and upon passing the final test, you get to walk back out of it," he said. "It was a humbling experience. I felt a tremendous sense of pride."
Murray said the course, located in Dalton, Georgia, started in 1978 as a confidence course but turned into something more later on.
"It started out as a confidence course for fireman that were being trained on self-contained breathing apparatus, because it was a new thing back then," he said. "It developed into taking firefighters and putting them into a high mental and physical stress environment, to make them better firefighters."
Murray said each day started with physical training at 7 a.m. Those sessions included calisthenics in full gear, as well as an obstacle course with 16 different drills.
"The purpose of it is to completely drain you, so you can only think solely with your mind," he said.
He said after that, the day really begins.
Attendees go through realistic training in self-survival, firefighter rescue, advanced search and rescue, thermal imaging, emergency procedures, teamwork, discipline, team leadership, situational awareness and decision making as well as how to function within the elements of the Incident Command System
"When you get there, you find out how to tweak and refine these simple tasks you learned when you first became a firefighter, and perfect them," he said.
OKCFD Maj. Carl Cobb, who directly supervises Murray, said the course enforced the confidence he had in Murray.
"I know what he can do under pressure. I'm confident in releasing the reins a little bit and trusting his decision making in any situation," Cobb said. "We're extremely proud of him."
Murray attended All Saints Catholic School in Norman, and later, Mount St. Mary Catholic High School, which is near where he is currently stationed.
After graduating from high school, Murray joined the Tuttle Fire Department, where he stayed for about a year-and-a-half. Then, the father of a childhood friend, OKCFD Maj. Louie Marschik, put the idea in his head to come work in Oklahoma City.
"Marschik brought up the idea to work for the Oklahoma City Fire Department," Murray said. "He told me there would be plenty of opportunities to fight fires. The big city was appealing to me. It was the best decision I've made, hands down."
Oklahoma City Fire Deputy Chief of Operations Michael L. Walker said the department, which is the largest fire department in the state with about 900 uniformed firefighters, prides itself on its training. Still, he said there's always room for improvement.
"Often times, people are trained to a certain level of competency and rarely are they given the opportunity to train to a level of mastery, because it's hard to replicate that in our line of work," he said. "Murray going and getting that level of training that not only will benefit him, but also the department."
Murray said he is looking forward to implementing what he learned while at the course regarding rapid intervention teams (RIT), while also helping others in the department. That's something Walker said he is looking forward to also.
"Starting next year, we're going to incorporate a heavy emphasis on RIT, during our department wide training. We've asked Murray to help us with that," he said.